“£40k spent hiding how rarely northern powerhouse minister visited north”

“The government has spent two years and £40,000 of taxpayers’ money trying to hide how little the northern powerhouse minister visited the north of England in his role, in what one prominent northern figure called “a blatant disregard for the principles of democratic accountability”. …

The Information Commissioner’s Office then undertook an investigation, during the course of which it found that the department adopted “what appears to have been a strategy of wilful procrastination in order to obstruct a request for information”.

The DCLG appealed against the decision to the first-tier tribunal of information rights, where in early 2018 Judge Hazel Oliver ruled that the department must hand over Wharton’s diary.

From start to finish, the process took 26 months. …

Hidden in 111 pages of internal DCLG emails relating to the FoI request is a document headlined “Official – Sensitive” dating from March 2016 which includes official advice stating “there is a strong likelihood of a decision to withhold the requested information … being overturned”.

Legal experts are unimpressed. “It sounds like a classic: they knew they were likely to lose and still wasted time and money on it, and come out looking even worse,” said Paul Bernal, senior lecturer in law at the University of East Anglia.

Manchester-based data protection consultant Tim Turner said: “Departments have shown time and again that they’re very secretive about who ministers meet and what they do, and spending £40,000 to hide it doesn’t seem close to the spirit of open government.”

The information that the government tried to suppress for two years shows that Wharton rarely left London as part of his role as the north’s representative in government.

Of the 693 lines of entries in Wharton’s ministerial diary, just under half contain identifiable addresses or office rooms in the “Location” column. Ninety percent of them are based in London. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/27/government-hid-details-of-northern-powerhouse-minister-james-wharton-visits-to-the-north

“First-time buyers: average salary requirement rises 18% in UK cities”

Remember when we were told that Help to Buy was for first-time buyers? We were sold a pup – it was for many-time developers!

“The average salary required by a first-time buyer to purchase a home in the UK’s biggest cities has risen by 18% in the past three years, above the rate of earnings growth – making it harder for young people to get on the housing ladder.

London house prices post first annual fall since 2009

In the latest sign that homeownership was becoming an increasingly distant prospect for young adults in the UK, figures from the research company Hometrack showed only three out of 20 major cities had become more affordable since 2015.

The biggest drop in affordability in the past three years was in Bristol and Manchester, where rapid growth in house prices had pushed up the average wage needed by a first-time buyer by almost a quarter.

In Bristol, a first-time buyer now needed to earn £58,826 per year to afford the average property, compared with £47,283 three years ago; while Manchester has seen the salary requirement jump by more than £6,500 to £34,770.

It has also become harder for first-time buyers to purchase a property in cities that include Leicester, Birmingham and Nottingham, with home values rising by more than the rate of growth in earnings over the past three years. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/sep/27/first-time-buyers-average-salary-requirement-rises-in-uk-cities

Secretary of State for Health refuses to meet Claire Wright as he inspects closed Ottery Hospital

From Claire Wright’s Facebook page:

“MATT HANCOCK, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR HEALTH, VISITS OTTERY HOSPITAL BUT LEAVES AT SPEED, JAMES BOND STYLE ….

Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care sped out of Ottery Hospital car park, in his ministerial car, with blue lights flashing this morning, in an apparently desperate attempt to avoid speaking to me and around a dozen hospital supporters.

Just before he left in a hurry, officials asked me and around a dozen residents to leave the car park where we were peacefully waiting for him to exit. We didn’t have placards and there was no chanting.

For more see…

See coverage on ITV Westcountry at 6pm this evening”

Privatisation not making your company enough money? Don’tworry – taxpayers will stump up for your losses

“Carillion taxpayer bill likely to top £150 million

Taxpayers are on course to pay more than £150m following the collapse this year of Carillion after it was revealed the bill for redundancy payments is expected to hit £65m.

A freedom of information request by the Unite union showed an arm of the Insolvency Service has already made £50m of redundancy payments to former Carillion workers and expects to hand over a further £15m.

The cost of lawyers and accountants handling the liquidation of the construction and services companies is expected to be more than £70m and other costs are expected to escalate above £20m, taking the total beyond £150m.

Earlier this year the National Audit Office said the cost would hit £148m, prompting condemnation from opposition MPs who accused the government of mishandling the company’s collapse and leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.

Considered one of the most spectacular corporate collapses of modern times, Carillion filed for bankruptcy in January after its stock market value slumped 90% on the news it had racked up debts of about £1bn and was struggling to fill a £600m hole in its pension fund.

At the time, the Wolverhampton-based company had more than 19,000 employees, many of them working on Whitehall-commissioned contracts to build roads, schools and hospitals.

Ministers were accused of realising too late that the company was in financial difficulties and then making matters worse by offering fresh contracts in an attempt to boost investor confidence.

Several contracts were taken over by rivals after the collapse, but the £335m Royal Liverpool hospital will be finished with government money, the hospital’s chief executive said on Tuesday, while the £550m Aberdeen bypass will be completed by the joint venture partners Balfour Beatty and Galliford Try.

Labour’s shadow cabinet spokesman, Jon Trickett, said he had received pledges from ministers in response to questions in the Commons that the costs associated with Carillion’s downfall would be met by shareholders.

“We were assured that shareholders, who have taken hundreds of millions out of the company over the years, would bear the burden, not the taxpayer,” he said. “Now it feels like the taxpayer has been skinned twice. First by contracts ministers signed with Carillion that were a bad deal and then by picking up the tab for the company’s failure.”

The Redundancy Payments Office said: “The total amount we may pay out is approximately £65m, of which £50m has been paid so far based on actual claims received.”

Unite said ministers were to blame for allowing Carillion to file for compulsory liquidation with only £29m in the bank, rather than enter a managed form of administration.

It said the decision meant thousands of staff that transferred to other employers could not claim continued employment and fell outside the transfer of undertakings (protection of employment) regulations (Tupe) that protect a worker’s pay, terms and conditions.

“The lack of continuation of service means that the affected workers are considered new starters and have also lost many of their employment rights for a two-year period,” Unite said.

“The taxpayer will also have to pick up the bill for the work to complete several of Carillion’s key strategic projects including the Royal Liverpool hospital and the Midland Metropolitan hospital in Sandwell, West Midlands. The cost of concluding these projects is expected to be in excess of £100m. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/sep/25/carillion-collapse-likely-cost-taxpayers-more-than-150m-unite

Potential Devon and Cornwall police merger descends into farce

“The announcement today (Wednesday, September 26) that plans to merger Devon and Cornwall Police with Dorset Police have been delayed has not helped what has been, from the start, a flawed process.

This latest delay – coming moments after a farcical episode involving an abandoned meeting in a supermarket – has been caused because those in charge of our police cannot agree whether the merger should move to the next stage. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/plan-merger-devon-cornwall-police-2045134

Social care turnover is more than 40%

“The proportion of adult social care workers in England leaving their jobs has increased 7.6% over the five years to 2017-18, according to workforce figures.

Most of those leaving were new recruits, particularly people under 30 – with a turnover rate of 42.4% in the last financial year – according to the charity Skills for Care’s annual report, published today. …”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/09/social-care-staff-turnover-rises